Edmonton

Former Edmonton soccer coach convicted on child-sex charges

Wesley Vander Leeuw was not a credible witness and "many of his explanations were simply nonsense," the judge said.

‘He was on anything but a child protection mission,' judge says in delivering decision

Wesley Vander Leeuw was convicted Tuesday of five child pornography-related charges. (Facebook/Wes Vander Leeuw )

A former Edmonton youth soccer coach faces a possible prison sentence for making and distributing written child pornography and for trying to arrange having sex with children.

Wesley Vander Leeuw was found guilty of five criminal charges Tuesday in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench. Each conviction carries a mandatory one-year minimum sentence, although they can be served concurrently rather than back-to-back. 

After Justice Michael Lema delivered his decision, Crown prosecutor Tara Hayes asked him to revoke Vander Leeuw's bail.

"These are very grave circumstances," Hayes told court. "The Crown will be seeking a substantial federal sentence." 

Vander Leeuw has been free on bail for the past two and a half years with no breaches. The judge decided to allow him to remain out of custody until he is sentenced. No date for sentencing has been set.

Undercover investigation

The Northern Alberta Internet Child Exploitation Unit began to communicate with Vander Leeuw in an undercover investigation in December 2016 after police got a tip from a concerned citizen.

The woman had responded to a Craigslist ad posted by Vander Leeuw that stated: "I'm looking for a female or couple that would like to come over for a few drinks, relax in the hot tub and have some fun." 

She became upset when Vander Leeuw introduced the subject of children and sex.

Craigslist ad posted by Vander Leeuw online. (Court exhibit )

An undercover detective pretended to be "Shannon," the mother who had communicated with Vander Leeuw, and began texting him. Their back-and-forth communication lasted a few weeks. 

"Some of the conversations featured extremely graphic descriptions of possible sexual groupings and activities involving the conversation participants and children," Lema noted in his decision.

Vander Leeuw and "Shannon" arranged to meet at a coffee shop. When Vander Leeuw arrived, he was arrested by Edmonton police and his cellphone was seized.

When police examined his phone, they discovered criminal conversations he had with other women. He encouraged one mother to send him nude photos of her under-18 daughter. In texts with another woman, he wrote, "Hopefully you are teaching your son to be a stud and your daughter a slut lol."

Vander Leeuw testified that he only wrote messages like that because he was trying to determine if the children were the victims of sexual abuse. The former used car salesman said he was conducting his own private investigations. 

He is not a credible witness.-Justice Michael Lema 

"He is not a credible witness," Lema said as he rejected Vander Leeuw's testimony. 

"His overall account is implausible. He was not a crime investigator in any sense," Lema said. "He tried to give his mission a noble cast, but his attempt falls flat.

"He was on anything but a child protection mission ... Many of his explanations were simply nonsense." 

Vander Leeuw's eyebrows raised in the prisoner's box and he looked to an unidentified man in the gallery as the judge read his decision.

He must surrender his passport and remain in Alberta until he is sentenced. Vander Leeuw is only allowed to use a cellphone or computer for work purposes and is not allowed to have contact with anyone under the age of 16. 

Vander Leeuw's lawyer said he will closely examine the 22-page written decision before deciding whether to ask for an entrapment hearing. That hearing can only be requested after a conviction. 

The case will be back in court August 30 to set a date for sentencing and a possible entrapment hearing.
 

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston